The art and craft of bookmaking has taken a step backward, and sometimes that is a good thing. In Constellation: Inspiration and the Artist Book at the Laramie County Library 12 artists from Wyoming, and around the world, have remixed the fundamentals of the craft, not unlike the disc jockeys at a rave spinning vinyl records to come up with a new sound.
The small invitational show is titled “Constellation: Inspiration and the Artist Book.” The word “constellation” evokes the idea of configurations in the heavens, but these works include our internal star patterns as well. Curator Camellia El-Antably said about the show, “We humans are all of us obsessed with finding meaning, whether in the astrological import of star placement at birth, or the collection we create, or the obsessions that drive us.”
On the first floor is a somewhat minimalist book by Beata Wehr, a Polish artist living and working in Tucson, Arizona, tells a wonderful story through the use of a nail, a button, a metal washer, and wooden pin, sewn onto pages of rough linen paper not unlike homespun cloth. It conveys a journey, a trace of a memory, in which simple everyday objects come together to make a pattern – a constellation if you will. You wish you could take the book out of the library’s display case and turn the pages.
Next to Wehr’s book is an attractive metal June beetle by Laramie artist Leah Hardy. I was not sure how this was a book, but it fit the theme anyway. Hardy further titled it a Celestial Fortune Cookie. I thought it might be a Wyoming version of the ancient Egyptian scarab beetle, as on the bug’s back she drew something like the Eye of Providence (the one that tops the pyramid on the dollar bill) looking through a little telescope. I don’t know, that’s how I read it. Hardy wrote, “June Beetle and the Celestial Fortune Cookie symbolically allows one to gain personal insight into the universe — or simply into oneself .”
Curator El-Antably has one of her books in the show. It is fanned open to make a circle of its pages. While young people do that with books as play, in this instance there is further meaning. She calls it “The Book of Desire.” El-Antably has long worked with bookmaking, and in this simple turn of the pages there is a desire to see more. I don’t know why exactly. She simply took a small book, and reworked some of the pages with colored pencil, ink and pasted paper. It feels like it contains some gentle magic. As El-Antably put it, “The changing nature of desires and dreams infused this altered book in a constellation of lists.”
In more traditional book form, Holland Dutton, of Pinedale, repurposed a rather hefty vintage volume on ships, turning it into an artist’s sketchbook. The pages are filled with colorful leaf impressions (perhaps a pun), which become increasingly abstract the further you look. There is an exploratory spontaneity to the freeform pictures made of paint, tape, ink, charcoal, graphite and cold wax medium. You see her progression, going forward and sometimes backward, which ends with the book’s original pages untouched, perhaps as she had finished working the theme. It was a good read, and this one you can touch, along with two others by Christopher Amend.
Going in another direction, Sarah Anne Shearer, of Cody, made a concertina book that maps sky chart-like orbits and patterns on black paper. She wrote, “This book explores the idea that the storms inside our minds are sometimes as unfathomable as the vastness of the constellations in the sky.”
In a similar vein, Katie Christensen, of Laramie, also used black paper in a trio of small accordion books to map out a navigation map of her “spiritual reckoning” and “history.” While the two books look somewhat similar, the energy of the imagery is quite different. Christensen’s is bolder, perhaps more obscure, than the linear atom smasher appearing traces of Shearer. Both are quite personal, as if they are diaries written after the Big Bang, but while the universe is still warm and expanding.
Kirsi Engels, of Los Altos, California, made a book whose contents pile out, almost like a scarf. On the soft bark-like page(s) flows a codex of Cretan labyrinths depicting the orbit of Mercury. “I strive to let my art be guided by the divine and connectedness to the natural world,” Engles wrote.
Several of the works are small, and through the use of folds invite you to read them like the “fortune tellers” young students use to pick a girl- or boyfriend — albeit much better made, and with some other meanings. Les Bicknell, of Saxmundham, U.K., in one of these books, used a repetitive octagonal pattern — silver on a dark ground — to make his “Tools for Tessellated Thinking.” It’s not the easiest read, but it does make you want to find out what it means.
Meanwhile, Christopher Amend, of Gillette, made a series of pencil-drawing prints, which he entitled “Suite Dreams,” and wrote, “…some remembered, some merely imagined.” It’s not called a “fortune teller” here, but a pop-up book, and perhaps intimates how images can appear in dreams.
Other artists in the show include Linda Ryan, of Casper, whose five-panel book marks the five “Wisdom Families” of Buddhism. Typically displayed as Buddhas in a mandala painting, they represent basic aspects of life — from the sacred to the profane. The house-shaped pages have welcoming doors, with a hint of responsibility. In another book utilizing house forms, Brittney Denham, of Sheridan, chose an astrological meaning, but apparently not only of her own choosing. “Dad Says My Sun Is In The 11th House and I’ll Believe Anything” is the title, and maybe that says it.
Karen Jenson, of Gillette, made a glass-plated accordion book in the form of a visual (and written) record of daily events, ranging from her holding a child while in bed, to feeling the absoluteness of nothingness. “Drawing a diary is an excellent way to get to know yourself,” Jenson wrote of her line work.
If you visit the exhibit, be prepared to hunt around a little. The majority of it is in display cases on the first floor in the entry atrium and by the elevator; the books one can handle are on the third floor. Some of the artists have more than one book. Constellation: Inspiration and the Artist Book is on display at Laramie County Library in Cheyenne through Aug. 27.